Today, a Monday, Admiral de Robeck, Commander-in-Chief of the British-French fleet at the Dardanelles, and his second-in-command Admiral Wemyss, arrived at Lemnos on their flagship the Queen Elizabeth for a conference with Sir Ian Hamilton, Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. De Robeck’s Chief of Staff, Roger Keyes, did not attend as he was busy organising a new fleet of minesweepers for a fresh attack on the Narrows — which despite the bad weather was intended to be imminent and decisive. (See my posts of 10 and 18 March.)
Events in the Gallipoli Campaign sometimes seem a perfect illustration of chaos theory. According to Hamilton, the first thing de Robeck did on sitting down at the conference table was to announce that he was now convinced the Fleet could not force the Narrows without the Army. How could de Robeck possibly say this? For the past three days he had been preparing for a fresh naval attack, five more British battleships and one French were on their way, a new squadron of spotter-planes was arriving, and everywhere Keyes had found captains’ and crews’ morale high.
In his memoirs, Hamilton claimed that he had always accepted de Robeck’s view as the ‘man who should know’ about the Navy forcing the Narrows alone, and would never have dreamt of expressing an opinion. But this is disingenuous, as we know that he wired Kitchener on 19 March telling him that in his view the Straits could not be forced by navy action alone; the Army must undertake a ‘deliberate and prepared military operation, carried out at full strength, so as to open a passage for the Navy’. Obviously, Hamilton had no naval expertise… But he knew that his words would carry great weight with his benefactor and chief, the Secretary of State for War.
The result of today’s conference is a chaological mystery. Whoever convinced whom, and whatever the chance factors that influenced de Robeck, everyone, including Wemyss, now agreed that a combined operation was the only way forward! When he heard it, Keyes was incredulous, and never ceased subsequently arguing for a naval attack. But Hamilton announced that he could assemble his invasion force in three weeks, and on 24 March he left Mudros with his Staff for Alexandria to do so.
Next entry: A terrific find